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Events, Neuroscience

Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz shares her perspective

Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz shares her perspective

shatz_carla-outsideWhen Carla Shatz, PhD, was an undergraduate at Radcliffe College, her grandmother suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Shatz was devastated.

“My grandmother was the first person in our family to go to college, and she was an unbelievable athlete and a brilliant woman,” she told a Stanford audience during a recent Personal Perspectives lecture hosted by the Translational Research and Applied Medicine (TRAM) program in the Department of Medicine.

“After the stroke, my grandmother was miserable. All of these diagnosticians could say exactly where the stroke was, but there weren’t many treatment options.” The experience unexpectedly sparked Shatz’s curiosity – and got her thinking about neuroscience and the brain.

Today, Shatz, the director of Stanford Bio-X, is widely considered a leader in neuroscience. She has spent the last 40 years studying the brain and has made significant discoveries about its development and plasticity. She has authored over 120 publications, received countless awards and nurtured the careers of many young academics.

She’s also blazed trails for women in science. She was the first woman to receive a PhD in neurobiology from Harvard and later became the first female chair of the same program. She was also the first woman to receive tenure in the basic sciences at Stanford.

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Events, Grand Roundup, Health Disparities, Rural Health

A quest to cure the world’s blind

A quest to cure the world's blind

Geoff TabinI recently had the pleasure of organizing a global-health seminar with a special visitor to campus: Geoff Tabin, MD. A renowned ophthalmologist, world-class climber and humanitarian, Tabin shared his circuitous road through global medicine and his vision to eradicate unnecessary world blindness.

“Most of the blindness on our planet could have been prevented or is easily treated,” Tabin told the audience. “It’s one of the few areas of global public health that we can really do a lot about – and, when you cure someone, they’re 100 percent cured.”

Blindness disproportionately impacts people in developing countries where malnutrition, poor water quality and lack of sanitation and health-care infrastructure lead to high incidence of eye disease. It comes with a heavy economic burden – Tabin explained that in the developing world, blindness is associated with a two-thirds reduction in life expectancy, or typically less than 10 years.

But tackling world blindness is also a story of hope. Cataract – which accounts for more than half of world blindness, according to the World Health Organization – can easily be treated with a low-cost, one-time procedure that restores full sight. A person who undergoes cataract surgery can go from being blind to being able to pass his or her driver’s test the next day.

Through a serendipitous series of events, Tabin co-founded the Himalayan Cataract Project with Nepali ophthalmologist Sanduk Ruit, MD, with the vision of restoring sight to as many of the world’s 18 million cataract patients awaiting care as possible. Since 1995, the organization’s doctors have performed over 445,000 cataract surgeries in the developing world.

Ruit had started an intraocular lens factory in Kathmandu that dramatically reduced the cost of cataract surgery. In the 1980s, the standard procedure for cataract surgery in the U.S. involved replacing the eye’s natural lens with an intraocular lens. However, the costly implants were not accessible to cataract patients in the developing world. That was until Ruit who, seemingly overnight, brought the cost of an intraocular lens from $200 to $4 on the world market. Today, the life-changing procedure can be completed in less than 10 minutes at a cost of just $25 per surgery.

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Education, Events, Stanford News

Hangout with Stanford’s Internal Medicine Residency program on Jan. 28

Hangout with Stanford’s Internal Medicine Residency program on Jan. 28

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an internal medicine resident at Stanford? Now’s your chance to learn more.

This Thursday, Stanford’s Internal Medicine Residency program will host a Google+ Hangout. Tune in at 1 PM Pacific to hear from program leadership and current residents as they share their experiences and answer questions about life at Stanford. Ron Witteles, MD,  program director and an associate professor of medicine, will moderate the one-hour discussion, which will touch on a variety of topics, including mentorship programs and research opportunities.

You can join the conversation here.

Cancer, Events, Stanford News, Women's Health

There’s something about Harry: Harry Connick Jr. sings in support of women’s cancer research

Harry Connick Jr2 - 560

The heavy rain started just as the salad plates were taken away (“How appropriate,” I thought – given the name of the event I was attending), but few people inside the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club in Palo Alto were paying attention to what was happening outside. Most eyes, including those of Stanford President John Hennessy, PhD, and Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, were instead directed to a small stage at the front of the room holding a sleek black piano, several brass-holding men clad in suits, and Harry Connick Jr.

The acclaimed vocalist/pianist was in Palo Alto for Under One Umbrella, an annual event benefiting the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center, and he wowed the crowd with his commanding voice, big smile, and charming personality.

“I wrote this song for my wife, but there are so many attractive people here that you should consider it yours,” he told the largely female audience with a grin before launching into his 2013 song “One Fine Thing.” And later, he jokingly scolded the appreciative crowd when they gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation: “You’re not supposed to act like that at a damn luncheon.”

Moments earlier, Connick had been introduced with great fanfare by Jonathan Berek, MD, director of the center, who called the crooner not only an “internationally celebrated” entertainer but an “active philanthropist” and a “special guy.” (“I’ve never received so many compliments in my life,” Connick later laughed. “I’m going to make him my ringtone.”) And Connick also has a personal connection to what brought the roughly 300 people together on that rainy afternoon: As he shared during a serious moment between songs, his mother died of ovarian cancer when he was 13.

“Man, do we get it,” he said of those who have been affected by cancer. “It’s so nice to be among people who know what it’s all about.”

Connick took a few moments on the stage to call out Berek on his accomplishments – “It’s not often that you’re humbled sitting next to someone,” he said of the pre-performance time they spent together – and the work of others here, which was nicely highlighted in a 8-minute, Berek-produced film shown at the event.

During the piece, Beverly Mitchell, MD, director of the Stanford Cancer Institute, called the women’s cancer center “one of the jewels in our crown.” And Berek, before introducing Connick, noted the “tremendous expansion” of the “innovative and extensive” research programs that has occurred since the first Under One Umbrella event in 2008. (Much of this is, of course, thanks to Under One Umbrella, which has raised more than $26 million over seven years for the center.)

Berek also reminded attendees of the importance of patients – “They are both our benefactors and our inspiration” – but it was evident that most in the room also took inspiration from our researchers and clinicians. “I’m glad I can be a small part of this, but know how honored I am to be among the people who will eradicate” these diseases, Connick told the crowd.

Previously: Country music stars thank Under One Umbrella for supporting Stanford Women’s Cancer Center, Stanford Women’s Cancer Center: Peace of mind and advanced care under one umbrella and Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood help fundraising effort for Women’s Cancer Center at Stanford
Photo by Drew Altizer

Events, Public Health, Research, Science

What matters to Stanford’s Lucy Shapiro, and why

What matters to Stanford's Lucy Shapiro, and why

Shapiro getting National Medal of ScienceFasten your seatbelt: Developmental biologist Lucy Shapiro, PhD, is driving, and we’re zooming through her achievement-packed 40-year career in less than an hour.

Speaking this week as part of the “What Matters to Me and Why” series hosted by the Stanford Office of Religious Life, Shapiro said the topic prompted her to ponder why she was so passionate about the world of molecules and cells, a world invisible to most people.

To figure it out, Shapiro said she had to think back to when she was 13, applying for high schools. After consulting with her parents, Shapiro decided to apply for one of New York City’s elite public schools that focused on art and music. Unbeknownst to her parents, however, she decided she wasn’t going to take the exam in music as planned. Instead, she checked out a book on drawing from the library, taught herself to draw and passed the entrance exam by producing a portfolio of art.

These past 40 years have just been beautiful.

“That was really a defining moment. I learned I could change the trajectory of my own life by some action,” Shapiro said.

With that lesson firmly engrained — and with some well-timed assistance from mentors — Shapiro was off. There were detours, of course. Her senior college thesis was on Dante — interesting, Shapiro said, but “it didn’t make my heart sing.”

When prompted to go back to school and take an organic chemistry course, Shapiro discovered her true love.

“It sounds corny, but it was like the sky cleared. [Chemistry] was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was clear that was how my mind worked,” Shapiro said.

She went on to make discoveries about the three-dimensional development of cells, compounds called RNA polymerases and many other advances in molecular biology, along the way mentoring scores of students and budding scientists. Her awards are numerous and include the prestigious National Medal of Science.

Now, she’s particularly passionate about the threat posed by pathogens, which are rapidly out-evolving the drugs available to rein them in. In response, she has helped found two pharmaceutical companies and is an active public speaker.

During her talk she offered numerous words of wisdom, including:

  • On discoveries: “It’s just indescribable when you discover something. It can be little, it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. It is so exciting.”
  • On spirituality: “To me, science is religion. My love and passion for the scientific world is spiritual.”
  • On her career: “These past 40 years have just been beautiful. I still can’t wait to get into the lab each morning.”

There’s more. Much more. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, I highly recommend it. It will be quite a ride.

Previously: Stanford scientist Lucy Shapiro: “It never occurred to me to question the things I wanted to do”, National Medal of Science winner Lucy Shapiro: “It’s the most exciting thing in the world to be a scientist” and Stanford’s Lucy Shapiro receives National Medal of Science
Photo of Shapiro accepting the National Medal of Science in 2013, courtesy of the White House

Events, Genetics, Research, Science, Stanford News

Personalised Health Conference explores paradigm shift from treating disease to maintaining wellness

Personalised Health Conference explores paradigm shift from treating disease to maintaining wellness

Lars Steinmetz talkingWhat does it mean to be healthy? This is an important question for the numerous laboratories and hospitals worldwide who dedicate their livelihoods to defeating disease. Thanks to breakthroughs in biotechnology, researchers are starting to develop a more thorough profile of health – and to realize how different it can be from person to person. “We should all go get our ‘healthy’ profiles now before we get sick,” insists Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of Stanford’s Department of Genetics.

Understanding what health means at an individual, molecular, and systematic level was the focus of the recent Personalised Health Conference at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. Notably, the conference served as the kickoff event for the EMBL-Stanford Life Science Alliance and was the first of many anticipated joint conferences. In a preview of the interdisciplinary collaborations the alliance will enable, the four-day conference brought together international experts in genomics, healthcare, bioethics, bioinformatics, cancer, and more.

“The technologies now at our disposal are ushering in a change in the state of medicine, from reactive to proactive, from treating disease to maintaining health,” said Lars Steinmetz, PhD, the conference’s main organizer, in his opening remarks. Steinmetz is spearheading the EMBL-Stanford Life Science Alliance, inspired by his dual affiliation: At Stanford, he is co-director of the Stanford Genome Technology Center (SGTC); at EMBL, he is associate head of the Genome Biology Unit.

The conference was kicked off with a keynote lecture from Leroy Hood, MD, PhD, president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, who is widely known as the father of personalized medicine. In addition to his vision for systems medicine, Hood presented the 100K Wellness Project, a longitudinal, multiparametric study that generates “dynamical data clouds” for 100,000 healthy individuals.

“By studying the earliest wellness to disease transitions, we aim to enable the earliest reversal of disease back to wellness,” said Hood. “Understanding wellness will allow individuals to reach their full health potential. I predict that a major scientific wellness industry will emerge to play a dominant role in the democratization of health care.”

Hood’s vision was supported by several research efforts presented at the conference. Snyder’s integrative personal omics profiling (iPOP) protocol here at Stanford now measures billions of molecular parameters in several individuals over time, in efforts to develop predictive models of disease that integrate genomic, molecular, environmental, and physiological datasets. Genomics England’s Tim Hubbard, PhD, presented the United Kingdom’s 100,000 Genomes Project, which aims to leverage genome sequence data in the treatment of 100,000 people in the national healthcare system with unmet clinical needs. As the largest national project of its kind, it will help to establish principles and frameworks for incorporating genomics into standard clinical care.

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Events, Medicine and Society, Stanford News

Abraham Verghese: “It’s a great time for physician leaders to embrace design thinking”

Abraham Verghese: "It's a great time for physician leaders to embrace design thinking"

Business_presentation_byVectorOpenStockNext spring, the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Business here will team up to offer a new, one-week residential program for health-care executives. Called “The Innovative Health Care Leader: From Design Thinking to Personal Leadership,” the program will be led by Sarah Soule, PhD, co-director of the Center for Social Innovation, and Abraham Verghese, MD, professor of medicine and well-known author.

I recently spoke with Verghese about the program.

This is the first time the two schools have worked together to offer a program like this. How did you get involved? 

I have admired the way the Graduate School of Business puts on continuing education programs – they have become so adept at it – so when Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, asked if I would lead this effort from our end, I was excited.

Stanford is all about learning new things and crossing disciplinary boundaries. This is the first medical school at which I’ve worked where all seven schools (business, education, law, engineering, medicine, humanities and sciences, and earth, energy and environmental sciences) are on the same campus. I thought this was a great opportunity for me to learn.

Why is this program needed?

The nature of medicine has become so much more than medicine. It’s a hugely important industry that consumes so much of our gross domestic product. There are so many things the executive has to know that is related to management, marketing, negotiations and strategy, it’s almost inevitable that these two worlds should meet.

But, it’s no use having all these strategies if you don’t ultimately deliver care in a way that’s satisfying to the patient and the people who deliver your care. Medicine is increasingly adopting the robes of business, but it can’t get too far away from what is elemental and fundamental, which is patient care. Every time it does, a disaster follows.

You’re best known for your advocacy of personal, bedside medicine. Why not have a professor who specializes in health-care economics or management lead the program?

I think it’s quite an appropriate role for some who has championed the patient-physician relationship and has been concerned about physician wellness. I’m involved because the patient is at the center, the ultimate beneficiary.

One of the startling things about health care these days is the strange dichotomy between our amazing technologies, therapies and discoveries and yet patients who are as a whole more dissatisfied than ever with the face of medicine, the cost of medicine and the lack of coordination of care. It’s also a time when many physicians are trying to figure out why the joy in medicine has left. For all those reasons, it’s a great time for physician leaders to embrace everything from design thinking to their own wellness.

Looking at it from my lens as a physician-leader of sorts in the educational field, I wish that I’d had the opportunity to attend something like this, using design thinking to examine how to lead in an environment that’s constantly changing, to hear from experts at the business school who talk about negotiating or about personal leadership and vision.

Verghese said he’d go in a “heartbeat” to attend some of the program’s scheduled speakers, including Dean Minor; epidemiologist John Ioannidis, MD, DSc; Doug Owens, MD, director of health policy; and Christy Sandborg, MD, professor of pediatrics.

Previously: Abraham Verghese: “There is no panacea for an investment of time at the bedside with students”, Physician-author Abraham Verghese encourages journalists to tell the powerful stories of medicine and A “grand romp through medicine and metaphor” with Abraham Verghese
Image by Vector Open Stock

Applied Biotechnology, Events, Genetics, Research, Stanford News, Technology

Stanford Genome Technology Center retreat highlights interdepartmental synergy

Stanford Genome Technology Center retreat highlights interdepartmental synergy

IMG_0108The recent Stanford Genome Technology Center retreat drove home for me why it’s a great idea to put biochemists, geneticists, engineers, and physicians in a lab together.

Set up in 1989 to establish automated methods for the Human Genome Project, SGTC works to increase the speed, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness of genomic, biomedical, and diagnostic technologies. The center integrates personnel from Stanford’s departments of genetics, biochemistry, medicine, and electrical engineering. At the two-day retreat, researchers presented their latest work in areas like synthetic biology, genome sequencing applications, single-cell approaches, and devices for cellular and molecular detection.

Since I joined SGTC this summer, I’ve gotten a firsthand view of the benefits of combining engineers and biologists. As our engineer Rahim Esfandyarpour, PhD, told me, “We have a lot of solutions – you biologists just need to tell us what the problems are.” The solutions presented at the retreat ranged from ‘sequencing by seeing’ – literally reading DNA molecules under an electron microscope – to a nanopipetting technology that noninvasively takes tiny samples from individual cells, to electrical ‘needles’ that can detect interactions between individual cells or even molecules, to wearable devices that quantify molecules in sweat.

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Education, Events, Stanford News

TEDMED, in pictures

TEDMED, in pictures

A group of MD and PhD students represented Stanford at TEDMED 2015, which was held last week. Several students have written about their experiences on Scope, and here now are some of their photos from the two-and-a-half-day event.

More photos of Stanford Medicine events, people and places can be found on Instagram.

Photos by Eric Trac, Afaaf Shakir, Chao Long, Lichy Han and Thomas Chew

Big data, Clinical Trials, Events, Research

At TEDMED 2015: Benign drugs? Not under the lens of big data

At TEDMED 2015: Benign drugs? Not under the lens of big data

This year’s TEDMED was held Nov. 18-20 in Palm Springs, Calif. Stanford Medicine is a medical research institution partner of TEDMED, and a group of MD and PhD students who represented Stanford at the conference will be sharing their experiences here.

xCUEHR0MrJlqiC9phSMFFEjCxjrDDo54Bv0Hc18sYdkPicture this: you go to the doctor and find out that your cholesterol is high. Your doctor prescribes you a medication taken by millions of Americans for lowering cholesterol – Pravastatin. A few months later, you see your doctor again because of persistent depression, and again, you are given a commonly prescribed medication – Paxil.

Russ Altman, MD, PhD, opened his 2015 TEDMED talk with this seemingly innocuous scenario. But through the course of his talk, Altman demonstrated how his lab leveraged big data to reveal the adverse side effects of supposedly benign pharmacological interventions.

When choosing medications for my patients during my clinical rotations, I would often cite evidence from randomized controlled trials about the clinical benefits versus the risks of that particular drug. However, this evidence-based medicine has one major limitation: In clinical studies, patients are usually only on one drug.

My patients, on the other hand, would often come in with bags full of prescription bottles in order to show me which drugs they took, since there were too many medication names to memorize. Often, I found myself wondering quietly, “Is there any way to know if combining these drugs could lead to an adverse event?”

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